1750-60s New Yorkers Drank Lots Of Taunton Ale

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Three years ago, I asked what the heck Taunton ale was. I found a few more things that I noted in the comments but, still, was pretty much left with the idea it was a bit of a fringe thing, a bit of a one off. After all, India Pale Ale gets all the attention because it deserves its adoration and the long haul beer of the Georgian era, right? But there I was in the New York State Library’s reference section this morning. Looking for ads for brewers by last name when I started to play around with other odd words and – whammo – 17 ads for Taunton Ale being shipped into New York harbour in the 1750s and 1760s. It was a commonly traded good. One note. Up at the top is the metadata on the image. These are screen shots.

A few preliminary thoughts of mine for your consideration, correction and elaboration. First, I had understood it was a bottled beer as part of the trade in Bristol glass. See, someone had figured out that shipping a full bottle was shipping two products – the bottle as well as its content. Second, it appears to be a product of quality. See the 1764 advert from Thomas Fogg? He’s importing something he doesn’t name but it is as good as Taunton. Sure it was. Sure it was. Third, what the heck is Dorchester beer? Fourth, Craig and I are working on the idea of what 18th century New York state… err… province beer was like and we are working on the idea of a few overlapping things or production techniques: weaker tavern brew, stronger northern Dutch-style wheat ale, NYC-made English/British-style barley ale and with this information there appears to be a fourth class. Wide – spread premium imports.

Four ideas is enough for now. Lots of data. What else do you see?

One thought on “1750-60s New Yorkers Drank Lots Of Taunton Ale”

  1. [Comments from the original post…]

    Brian – June 5, 2013 11:04 PM
    Are the images offscreen because of library restrictions?

    Alan – June 5, 2013 11:22 PM
    No, it was just because it was fast and got them on to my cell phone. Pretty sure a gang of librarians are not now stalking me.

    Craig – June 6, 2013 12:13 AM
    Maybe, but nobody ever suspects the librarians,

    Alan – June 6, 2013 12:17 AM
    They thrive on silence.

    Chris – June 6, 2013 12:43 AM
    I think Dorchester Beer was an old UK variety. Obviously not sure if the Dorchester Beer mentioned here is of that same origin.

    Bailey – June 6, 2013 4:23 AM
    Now having access to more newspaper archives, I’ve found a few references to Taunton Beer, but always in the same vague context as above: “GREAT NEWS, GUYS! We’ve got Taunton Beer/Ale for sale! Yes, you heard right TAUNTON. Woot!”

    Having now located the archives in Taunton (for this) I will make a serious effort to get there are again and try to get to the bottom of this.

    A thought: Starkey, Knight & Ford retained a brewery in Taunton purely because the water in its well was very rich in gypsum, so perhaps beer from Taunton was prized for similar reasons as beer from Burton?

    Alan – June 6, 2013 8:32 AM
    You may also want to focus on a tight timeline. I noticed that the ads seem to be from the point when the British army shows up for the Seven Years / French and Indian War in the mid 1750s and the Boston Massacre in 1770. Maybe the shipments were related to increased Britishness or at least Tory triumphalist purchasing patterns. It is important to note that the proto-revolutionaries in the Albany area in 1776 were mainly Dutch descendants. Maybe there is an aspect of allegiance to all of this.

    Gerry Lorentz – June 6, 2013 8:04 PM
    You might already have this reference, but if not, it might be helpful. It’s later than the things that you are looking at, but it gives some understanding of what “Taunton Ale” might have been. Edward Palmer’s The Spirit, Wine Dealer’s, and Publican’s Director (1824) contains instructions for “brewing according to the Taunton Method.” Palmer notes that “Taunton Ale and Beer have long been distinguished with just celebrity by those who have had the gratification of partaking of this pure and wholesome beverage.” This includes instructions for strong beer, ale, and table beer. For some reason I’m having trouble putting a link in here, but the book can be found on google books.

    Alan – June 6, 2013 8:06 PM
    Ooooh!!! I haven’t seen that one. I will hunt it out tonight, thanks.

    Alan – June 6, 2013 9:16 PM
    This is a pretty amazing text.

    Gerry Lorentz – June 6, 2013 10:20 PM
    Glad it was helpful. There’s certainly a lot of interesting stuff out there, but its hard to find it all yourself. If I come across anything else that’s interesting in a Tauntony way I’ll pass it along.

    Alan – June 6, 2013 10:34 PM
    I want to hold an 1824 party with some of those punches now. I haven’t seen any other practical guides to good drinks that old anywhere else. The tone is oddly modern.

    Gerry Lorentz – June 6, 2013 11:05 PM
    Perhaps Milk Punch and Cookies?

    Gerry Lorentz – June 6, 2013 11:21 PM
    There are older recipes in domestic guides like E. Smith’s The Compleat Housewife (1739).

    Bailey – June 7, 2013 5:29 AM
    That is a great text. Seems to confirm that Taunton Ale is strong ale… from Taunton?

    Martyn Cornell – June 7, 2013 6:37 AM
    Interesting: here’s the Swede Reinhold Rucker Angerstein’s Illustrated Travel Diary, 1753-1755: “[Dorchester] is known for Dorchetser beer, which, however, is not only brewed here, but also at various places around the county. There is a considerable trade in this beer both with Ireland and with foreign places.”

    And here’s Friedrich Accum in 1822: “The most esteemed varieties of Ale are Burton Ale, Edinburgh Ale, Windsor Ale, Dorchester Ale and Welsh Ale.”

    Of course, Dorchester BEER in the 18th century, would imply something different from Dorchester ALE, ie much more hopped.

    Martyn Cornell – June 7, 2013 6:53 AM
    Although Dorchester Beer and Dorchester Ale may have been used interchangeably: here’s something amusing from 1881

    The Vocal Magazine: Or, Compleat British Songster (pub 1781)

    Written by the Editor and occasioned by his drinking some extraordinary fine Ale [sic] with his Friend J Morris Esq brewed by Mr Bower of Dorchester

    In these troublesome times, when each mortal complains,
    Some praise to the man is most certainly due
    Who while he finds out a relief for their pains
    Supplies all his patients with good liquor too.
    Then attend to my song and I ll make it appear
    A specific for all is in Dorchester-beer.

    (fourth verse)

    E’en our brethren across the Atlantick, could they
    But drink of this liquor would soon be content
    And quicker by half, I will venture to say,
    Our parliament might have fulfill’d their intent
    If instead of commissioners, tedious and dear,
    They had sent out a cargo of Dorchester-beer

    Martyn Cornell – June 7, 2013 6:53 AM
    Bugger – “from 1781”, not “from 1881”

    Alan – June 7, 2013 10:09 AM
    Excellent! So now we need a Dorchester Beer Recreation and Consumption Society. And to be historically accurate consumption will need to be a double entendre.

    Alan – June 7, 2013 10:18 AM
    Here is a link to the song book. Search for the one word “ale” and there are a lot more references.

    Gerry Lorentz – June 7, 2013 12:20 PM
    One of the places that Bristol merchants shipped Taunton Ale was to Jamaica, where it clearly made an impression. In The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Review, Vol. 46, 1776 we find the poem “In Praise of Tobacco by the late Dr. Anthony Robinson of Jamaica” which includes this:

    Most steady friend of social cheer,
    To me thou ever wilt be dear;
    Say, Muse, how I regale,
    How chearfully the minutes pass,
    When with my bottle, friend, and glass,
    Clean pipes and Taunton ale.

    Hopefully he was a better doctor than a poet.

    There seem to be a whole lot of “famous” ales and beers that aren’t necessesarily so famous anymore and contemporaries all seemed to have their favourite. Clearly popularity shifted over time as tastes and fortunes shifted, something recognized by commenters. The 1845 Encyclopædia metropolitana; or, Universal dictionary of Knowledge notes:

    “Of the ales which have long been celebrated, it would be idle to select any one with a decided preference, because no single authority is entitled to pronounce upon a point which the appeal is such a multitude of tastes. The Scotch ale, the Burton ale, and the Taunton Ale, have long been known in commerce as well as Madeira or Port wine, and are as easily identified.”

    Still seem to be having difficulty including links, but these can be found through google books.

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